Bill requiring prisoners to reimburse government for their own incarceration advances in Senate

Bill 580/2015 has been approved in the Constitution and Justice Committee and now proceeds to a full session of the Senate; text still needs to pass through the Lower House

On Tuesday, February 11, the Constitution and Justice Committee of the Senate approved the bill that requires prisoners to reimburse the State for the cost of their incarceration.

Senate Bill 580/2015, drafted by Senator Waldemir Moka, which alters the National Prison Law, will now proceed to a full session of the Senate and, if approved, will be sent to the Lower House of Congress.

“This bill is a setback to the rights of prisoners. Incarceration is a responsibility of the State, which has the duty to guarantee dignified conditions for people to serve their sentences and ensure their safety,” said Gabriel Sampaio, coordinator of the program to Combat Institutional Violence at Conectas.

“The measure will primarily affect the most vulnerable layer of the population and, therefore, the majority of those who pass through the criminal justice system,” he concluded.

Slave labor and pre-trial detainees

The bill being discussed in the Senate also comes up against another problem: using money from paid work inside prison facilities to cover the costs of prison maintenance could constitute slave labor, according to the definitions of the ILO (International Labour Organization).

The multilateral agency of the United Nations establishes that prisoners can only reimburse the State by working if this work is not performed for private contractors, and that a requirement to work for a private organization constitutes slave labor.

In many prisons in Brazil, maintenance services are outsourced to private companies. 

Bill 580/2015 also includes the requirement for pre-trial detainees to reimburse the State for the cost of their incarceration. In Brazil, 34.7% (254,000) of the prison population have not yet received a conviction.

What the National Prison Law says

The current legislation already permits prisoners to work and also allows for the State to be partially reimbursed. 

Article 29 of the National Prison Law states that prisoners must always be paid “by a pre-established remuneration table, which may not be less than the equivalent of ¾ of the minimum wage” and that the payment must have specific purposes, namely: compensation for the damage caused by the crime, assistance for the family, minor personal expenses and reimbursement of the State for the costs associated with the maintenance of the convicted person, in a proportion to be established without prejudice to the allocation to the previous items.

However, according to the most recent information from Infopen, only 18% of the prison population perform some form of employment activity.

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